Would you like fries with that? United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation(FAO) is pushing an initiative to increase the production of edible insects to supplement diets in areas where malnutrition is rife and as a measure to combat obesity in the West.
Encouraging people to eat beetles, caterpillars and ants could help improve food security and counter the world's growing problem of obesity. This is due to the health benefits of these delicacies which are widely shunned in the west, FAO experts said on Monday (May 13).
According to the UN agency some two billion people, a third of the world's population, consume edible insects.
Many in the Cameroonian capital swear on the edible insects' benefits.
"I eat insects like this because they provide nutrition, they nourish the body, they are not too fatty but have lots of good ingredients. If you eat these all the time, you will rarely get sick," said local man Steve Abada.
In a report on edible insects published on Monday, FAO and Wageningen University say encouraging insect consumption could also offer environmental and economic benefits.
Insect farming is likely to be less land-dependent than traditional livestock farming and produce less greenhouse gases, they found. It would also provide business opportunities for poor people, especially women, who are often responsible for collecting insects in rural communities.
According to FAO a woman may collect four plastic water bottles full of grasshoppers a day in high season, which she can sell for around 15 euros.
Women have an important role in promoting insect consumption as they are often responsible for feeding their families, FAO said.
"Insects are good because, when we no longer have produce in our fields, they give us a means to live as we prepare the insects to eat. And also, we can sell them. So, they really provide for us," said Philomene Enama from Dzeng village inCameroon as she prepared a meal of grasshoppers together with other women from the village.
Muller said some restaurants in Europe were starting to offer insect-based dishes, presenting them to customers as special treats.
And with obesity figures shooting up, insects could help towards a healthier diet in western cultures, Muller added.
"Tastes change, no? We have seen that with sushi. Twenty years ago nobody would've eaten sushi because it's raw fish and now everybody likes it. So, tastes can change and we've already seen insects showing up in restaurants in some of the capitals in Europe and they are offered as something like a speciality. So, in the longer term I think insects could also be eaten in western countries and why this would be good? Well, we know that the population is growing and there is going to be an increased demand for food and protein in general and insects offer one option of providing this protein. And in western cultures where we have a huge problem of obesity and overweight, insects are a very nutritious element that could provide a healthy diet," she said.
Worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980 to about 500 million people and keeps increasing, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which lists the United States among the countries with the highest obesity rates.
The related costs to public health and the economy are skyrocketing, and analysts expect the fight against obesity to be a major investment trend in coming years.